31 polygamist sect teens pregnant or have babies: officials
Chicago (ANTARA News) - More than half of the teenaged girls removed from a polygamist sect in Texas are already mothers or are currently pregnant, child welfare officials said Monday.
All of the sect's 463 children were taken in state custody earlier this month amid allegations of widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the YFZ (Yearn For Zion) Ranch.
Officials said girls were being "groomed" to accept sex with their middle-aged "spiritual husbands" as soon as they hit puberty and boys were being indoctrinated to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. They have identified 53 girls who they believe are between the ages of 14
"We believe 31 of the 53 have either already had children or are pregnant," Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins told AFP.
All but six of the 250 girls and 213 boys seized in the raid have now been placed in foster care across the state, he added.
Those children are currently hospitalized with ailments that include respiratory problems and an ear infection.
The department tried to keep siblings together and placed most of the children in large group settings.
A separate shelter was set up for 17 women who had infants under a year old. The teenaged mothers were not separated from their children and the other mothers were given visitation rights.
Status hearings for the children will begin in mid-May and no long-term decisions have been made about their placement.
Police believe that the desperate call for help which sparked the dayslong raid which began April 3 may have been a hoax.
The call was used to obtain a search warrant of the sprawling ranch and officials said they saw evidence of widespread abuse when they arrived at the compound owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The FLDS split from the mainstream Mormon church when polygamy was banned.
The group holds that plural marriage is a way to get to heaven.
Mainstream Mormons now excommunicate members who engage in polygamy and reject any connection with the FLDS.
The ranch was purchased in 2003 and built by Warren Jeffs, the self-described prophet of the group, who was convicted last year by a Utah court on two counts of being an accomplice to rape, relating to the marriage of a schoolgirl against her will to a cousin.